VIENNA, 16 October 2006 (UNODC) - Opium poppy cultivation in the Golden Triangle - Laos, Myanmar and Thailand - fell 29 percent in 2006, bringing the total decline in the region since 1998 to 85 percent, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said on Monday.
"This is a remarkable success in the reduction of illicit crops which is so far unmatched anywhere in the world," UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said. "It represents an important step towards the goal of eliminating the cultivation of illicit crops worldwide."
"The Golden Triangle's share of world opium poppy cultivation has fallen from 66% in 1998 to only 12% in 2006. Laos and Thailand are almost opium-free. If the current trend continues, there will soon be only one opium-producing country left in the world - Afghanistan," he added.
UNODC's 2006 Opium Poppy Cultivation in the Golden Triangle survey showed cultivation in the three countries fell to 24,160 hectares this year from 34,720 in 2005.
This compares with total cultivation of 157,900 hectares in 1998, the year the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs called for a significant reduction in global illicit drug cultivation within 10 years. The Golden Triangle now produces only about five per cent of the world's opium, down from 33 per cent in 1998.
"It is essential to ensure that the remarkable progress that has been made in this region is maintained," the UNODC chief said.
"That will require greater investment in poor and often remote rural communities that have been affected by the elimination of opium poppy crops. Farmers need to feel confident that alternative livelihoods are sustainable. Otherwise, the temptation to return to opium poppy farming will be too great."
Laos and Thailand saw increases in opium cultivation in 2006 but these were from a very low base. The two countries have both reached such low levels of cultivation that they are no longer exporters of opium.
In Myanmar, cultivation fell 34 per cent to 21,500 hectares, representing a dramatic 83 per cent fall on the 130,300 hectares under cultivation in 1998. But the country remains the world's second largest opium poppy grower after Afghanistan.
Costa said that poor farmers in the region who were forced to stop growing opium were vulnerable to varying degrees of humanitarian crises. "The need to protect the rights of these populations to live in security, freedom and dignity must be an integral part of the enforcement of drug control and opium bans," he added.
He also called for the continuation of major development assistance and said the Golden Triangle countries needed to maintain their resolve to turn their back on opium.
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